Extinct humans a monstrous thought

AUTHOR, academic and journalist Richard King’s latest book couldn’t have been more timely.

The Beaconsfield resident had literally just sent out invitations to the launch of Here Be Monsters: Is Technology Reducing Our Humanity?, when a who’s who of the artificial intelligence world released a stark warning – they’ve cracked the lid on Pandora’s box.

The statement, featuring electronic signatures from the CEO of Google’s DeepMind project, the founder of ChatGPT developer OpenAI and Microsoft’s chief scientist, puts their technology up there with nuclear war and pandemics as a risk to human existence.

While ChatGPT was still in development as King was writing the book, and AI is only one of the areas covered, he says its rapid takeup has highlighted concerns he raised about whether enough thought is going into how technology interacts with our lives.

• Beaconsfield author and journalist Richard King delves into how humans interact with computers, and it’s not always a comfortable conversation.

A tutor at Notre Dame in Fremantle, he set his students an essay about Chat GPT and says many took the fatalistic view that its use was inevitable, regardless of its value.

“We’ve been cowed by the moral panics of the past into thinking that we must accept whatever’s new, upon pain of being called a Luddite or reactionary,” he says.

“Where is the critical analysis of technology?

“It’s interesting to me that the techno-critical tradition has kind of gone missing, at precisely the point where I think we need it.”

An unapologetically progressive left-winger, he partly attributes that gap to the influence of neo-Liberal governments who’ve subordinated science to “practical” technology in the last couple of decades.

But even his own side of politics isn’t immune from a damning critique: “It’s interesting how Green parties across the world are becoming technologically solutionist in their politics, even bringing nuclear power stations into the equation.

“Well I don’t want my children anywhere near a nuclear power station, thank you very much, or a nuclear submarine for that matter.

“You can’t just innovate your way out of every problem that emerges, because a lot of those problems are social and economic in nature.”

King also delves into biotechnology, nanotechnology and pyschotropic medication, concerned the latter could have a sinister undertone.

“Rather than making societies which engender more flourishing human being, we’re remaking human beings in order to fit the society that we’re made.

“There are already utilitarian philosophers talking about moral pills and all this sort of thing.

“It sounds fantastical, but in 20 years time, who knows,
 Mr King said.

But the book isn’t all doom and gloom, and King says he wrote it to encourage people to start seeing technology in a different way and not to take it for granted.

“It’s actually very liberating, because you start to appreciate how brilliant technology is.

“You almost automatically learn a little more about it, and the world begins to appear less like a black box, opaque to everyone.

“For all that we are in a bit of a pickle, in all kinds of areas, human beings are capable of doing quite remarkable things sometimes.”

Here Be Monsters: Is Technology Reducing Our Humanity? is published by Monash University Publishing and available at New Edition Bookstores.


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